Our liquid heartby Susannah Walker
Memories of the Kestrel float to the surface.
This editorial is published in the April 2016 issue of Metro, on sale in Auckland 17 March.
Wayne from Waitakere City is advertising a painting for sale on Trade Me. It’s the second time he’s listed it. He only wants 80 bucks for it, but two days before the auction closes, there are still no bids.
The painting, a 1979 watercolour by artist Lucille Cranwell, is a whimsical depiction of the Kestrel, the creaky old bird who has since fallen off her perch at Wynyard Wharf.
Why would anyone want to buy a painting of this relic? And why should we care about her sinking?
The Kestrel, built on the site of the Tepid Baths from heart kauri and totara, was launched in 1905. Back then, the Waitemata was famous for its wooden boats, and for its boat builders. The harbour would have been filled with sails and funnels and people going about their boating business, the city’s liquid heart as central to people’s lives as its boats. It remains one of Auckland’s unique pleasures.
Purpose-built to service the commuter route from Devonport to the city, the Kestrel also did the Waiheke run — in reality more of a sweet, thrumming lumber — before being overtaken by quicker cats.
The last of the double-ended wooden Waitemata Harbour ferries still afloat, she retired gracefully back in the mid-2000s but was then banished to Tauranga, for unspecified sins. After indignities involving an attempt to transform her into a floating restaurant, she came home to roost and had been in dock for the past four years while undergoing restoration. She flooded and submerged while the city slept.
For me, the Kestrel is an echo from the 80s. Of being young and excited and hard up, of a group of friends buying tickets to Devonport, but never setting foot on that distant shore.
“Disaster strikes,” the Kestrel Preservation Society announced in red type on its website the next morning, March 8. Muttering about the sudden sinking swiftly followed. The harbourmaster launched an investigation. Sadness washed through social media. Stories of childhood adventures and city commutes lit up the tweetdeck.
For me, the Kestrel is an echo from the 80s. Of being young and excited and hard up, of a group of friends buying tickets to Devonport, but never setting foot on that distant shore. We stayed on board for an evening’s worth of cheap entertainment, criss-crossing the harbour into the night.
Other echoes — still young and hard up but this time not at all excited — of a lost love and of fleeing to Waiheke, the Kestrel hunched low in the water to match my mood. Of the night that followed in some strange sort of boarding house in Oneroa, peopled by single, silent, singleted men, mercifully lacking in curiosity about the sudden appearance of a single, silent, sad woman in their midst. Of a burst of melodramatic howling on the beach before a reluctant return to the city, the ferry inching her way home with a lack of enthusiasm that again matched my own.
We care about the demise of the Kestrel not because of what she was but because of what she represents. A fragment of this city faded to flotsam, now nothing more than a piece of the puzzle that will become its past. And perhaps, too, a sliver of your own history, slipping beneath the surface and drifting away.
Photo: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19060125-12-1.
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